It was the summer of 2016. I suddenly found myself with a free week and nothing to do but return to my old habit of venturing on a wildman trip, my pet name for rather unplanned adventure.
Really, the only plan I had was to hit as many National Parks as I could in south-central Tennessee, northern Georgia, and South Carolina as I made my way to my son’s graduation from Army Officer’s Basic Training at Fort Jackson. And, by chance, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail lies at the summit of Springer Mountain in Georgia. It’s not a National Park but it is a National Scenic Trail. Close enough for me.
But not close enough to find the southern terminus. You either need to visit Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia and hike 8+ miles on the approach trail or drive to a remote parking area on a Forest Service road where the Trail crosses and hike 1 mile to the southern terminus. I chose the Forest Service road.
There were a few directions provided on the internet but as I was to learn, they were not current, nor very accurate. The Jersey cow standing along the road in the shade of an oak tree was not there, as were not other random landmarks. And being the adventurer that I am, I don’t use GPS. Paper maps, compass, and gut feelings make wildman trips a lot more interesting.
I did find the parking area, and the Trail, and the southern terminus. And I updated all the information that was either erroneous or non-existent. Pay no attention to what you read elsewhere, and maybe not even to your GPS. THIS is the way:
YOU ARE HERE, on Georgia Route 52 at the entrance of Amicalola Falls State Park. Be sure your car is in good shape, that you have gas, water, food, hiking shoes, flare guns, bear repellent, and nerve; and that you have the stomach for your very nice 2007 Mercury to crawl over miles and miles of dirt road, muddy washouts, and loose rock.
Travel 9.4 miles east on Route 52. Turn north (left). This is near mile marker 5 in Lumpkin County, GA. There may or may not be a sign for Nimblewill Baptist Church. But there are TWO roads leading to the church off of Route 52 and therefore you may or may not see TWO different signs. Just turn at the road nearest mile marker 5. From here on out, I’ll use left/right directions. And I’ll not use Forest Service road numbers because I found them to be relatively mismarked or missing altogether.
Travel 2.1 miles and turn right. If you pass a church, you’ve gone too far. Go back, stop at the church, pray, and continue to the road you just missed.
Travel 1.3 miles to a bridge. You are now on the makings of a decent dirt road (it will soon become indecent). Cross the bridge and travel another 0.8 mile.
There’s a fork in the road here. Pick it up and eat your lunch. Return the fork to the road and veer onto the left prong. Do not go straight. Go left.
Travel 5.1 miles on the allegedly-maintained forest service road. Watch for loose rock (I mean, really large loose rock), deceiving dips, and the rain storm that will surely pass your way, during which you will need to run your wipers at full speed, dodge mud slides, and totally miss any meaningful landmarks that will help you find your way back.
You’ll come to another fork in the road. Do NOT pick this one up. In fact, stop and study it from all directions. It is a weird intersection of Forest Service roads and bear wallows. The wallows are obvious. The Forest Service roads are not so obvious. So pay attention: Turn left… a hard left. Not a gentle left but a hard left. Do not go straight, do not bear left. Turn HARD LEFT. There were signs here at one time. Maybe they will return, maybe not. And if they do, ignore them and just make a hard left.
Travel 2.7 miles on this slightly better Forest Service road. You will soon come to a gravel/dirt parking area on your right. You might see vehicles there. You will see a marquee at the other end of the lot. PARK THERE.
The Appalachian Trail crosses here. It is marked, albeit not with flashing lights and reflective symbols. You can hike from there to the southern terminus of the Trail at the summit of Springer Mountain. It’s really just a footpath loaded with exposed roots, loose stone, and bear droppings.
The hike to the summit is gently uphill most of the way. I hiked it in about 30 minutes. The return hike took me 26 minutes. Trust me, it’s worth it. And the Mercury was none the worse for wear.
Once at the parking area, I realized that decent directions were needed, so on the return trip, I marked the mileage and my time. It took me 53 minutes from the time I left the parking area to the entrance of the Amicalola Falls State Park on Route 52. Total mileage one way was 21.4 miles.
Your mileage may vary.